Being cooped up at home can either be a curse or a blessing. I do miss my routine which gives purpose and markers to my days. However, the extra unscheduled times has allowed me to catch up on reading (I recommend The Convert by Hermans), organize my Rolodex ( I can’t give it up), and think about cleaning the closets. More importantly it has given me the opportunity to participate in some thoughtful webinars and online classes.
Some of these have been organized around the upcoming Passover holiday. In ordinary times, most of us would be planning our seders, making lists, freezing the gallons of chicken soup, and deciding which haggadah to use. These are not ordinary times; even my super organized brother hasn’t thought about Passover yet.
But today I did. The Forward presented a webinar via Zoom called The 11th Plague, referring, of course, to the coronavirus. The presenters were Jodi Rudoren from the Forward; Archie Gottesman from JewBelong, a group with seeks to draw in disengaged and disinterested Jews; Abby Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year; Joan Nathan, cookbook doyenne; and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a very large Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles.
Following are some random takeaways that you might apply to your Passover celebration:
- The challenges of this year also give us the opportunity to free ourselves and experiment with other forms of a seder, a video conferencing seder, for example. The number of participants is not limited to the size of the table; there should be less crosstalk and many voices can be heard.
- Traditional family pre-Passover activities can still be held. Joan Nathan makes gefilte fish with several people in her kitchen every year. Why not do the same, using Zoom, Skype or FaceTime?
- The word Mitzrayim (Egypt) referring to narrow spaces is very appropriate this year when our movements are contracted and many of us are often physically confined in small areas.
- A large part of the rituals and even the rules of the seder is to spark joy and prompt memories.
- It is most important to tell the story of deliverance and freedom to the next generation.
- Don’t worry about what you can’t control like the chicken soup for 40 that Joan Nathan has in her freezer in Washington, DC while she’s in New Orleans and can’t get back.
- Cacophony is better than silence, referring to the voices online.
- Ask guests what they miss most about this year’s seder.
- Despite physical distancing we can be socially and emotionally together.
- Seders are very personal with each family having its own traditions. This year’s challenge is really an opportunity to be inventive. You can’t do it wrong.
So if you can, zoom in to a seder the year. Even prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbis recognize that these are times of emergency and are permitting the use of video conferencing for the seder, providing it is activated before the holiday. Now elderly people will be able to join their families.
The Forward webinar should be archived on the Forward website along with some links to recipes and resources for Passover.